The New England Patriots mandatory minicamp is in the books and it’s a good time to recap the major takeaways from this past week. The Patriots will return next week for organized team activities on Monday, June 13th; Tuesday, June 14th; and Thursday, June 16th.
Since these practices are generally limited in their drills, it’s difficult to truly grade out players in the trenches. Defensive tackles and linemen are learning their roles, while offensive linemen are hoping to improve their technique. There are far more details around skill players.
Here is what we learned.
The Patriots starting offense did not practice
New England had 13 players sit out all three days and the majority are key offensive players. While starting cornerback Logan Ryan and nickel safety Duron Harmon sat out for unknown reasons, and special teamer Nate Ebner is competing to make the Olympics, the following offensive players sat out:
RB: Dion Lewis (ACL), LeGarrette Blount (hip)
WR: Julian Edelman (foot), Danny Amendola (knee)
TE: Rob Gronkowski (bubblewrap)
OL: Nate Solder (biceps), Sebastian Vollmer (unknown), Josh Kline (shoulder), Tre Jackson (knee), Shaq Mason (knee)
Add in quarterback Tom Brady and you have the #1 offense in the NFL right there. Hopefully these players will make their way back to practice in the coming weeks, but it’s not out of the ordinary for head coach Bill Belichick to sit his injury-risk players for as long as possible.
With the offensive line out, the Patriots lined up (from left to right) LaAdrian Waddle, rookie Joe Thuney, Bryan Stork and David Andrews, Jonathan Cooper, and Marcus Cannon. Stork and Andrews are battling for a starting role, but the other top players are pretty set.
The first team offense sitting out helped the young linemen, and it also meant more snaps for other players, like...
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson might make the roster
With Edelman and Amendola sidelined, the Patriots had to ask more of their depth receivers and many were excited and willing to step up. No player caught more passes that 4th year receiver Aaron Dobson, according to ProJo's Mark Daniels, and Dobson made multiple catches that drew reactions from the media in attendance.
Dobson was an afterthought this year after the Patriots drafted Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien, and added veterans Nate Washington and Chris Hogan in free agency, but no one would be too upset if Dobson had such a great offseason that he earned a key role in the offense.
The quarterbacks all had pretty good weeks
Keep in mind that the drills were rarely 100% speed, but the three day camp resulted in quarterback numbers you might expect:
Tom Brady 88/113 (77.9%), 1 INT
Jimmy Garoppolo 88/116 (75.9%), 2 INTs
Jacoby Brissett 75/104 (72.1%), 1 INT
Crazy, right? Brady was more accurate than Garoppolo, who was more accurate than Brissett. Just as you would hope and expect.
Brady is Brady and Brady is good. Garoppolo continues to have the game slow down for him and I’m really excited to see him perform in live action.
This week also marks a clear improvement for Brissett, who struggled in his first practice open to the media, and is a good sign for his development. He became more comfortable in the team drills and should continue to grow over the coming months.
Bill Belichick is throwing curveballs in the defensive front
The big defensive story from this week surrounds the usage of Rob Ninkovich and Shea McClellin. Ninkovich has been a stalwart on the Patriots defensive line for years, but he spent the week as a stand-up linebacker. McClellin, who was added as a potential back-up linebacker, spent his time with the edge defenders.
So maybe Ninkovich and McClellin flipped roles. Maybe it’s just a practice drill so the two can provide more flexibility. We will all be very interested in how these positional alignments move forward.
Rookie cornerback Cyrus Jones is going to be thrown in with the starting secondary
The Patriots did not have Logan Ryan or Duron Harmon on defense, and Jones was the first player up at cornerback- and 2nd year safety Jordan Richards stepped in at safety. New England paired Jones with Malcolm Butler in the secondary and also kicked him inside to the slot and brought Justin Coleman on the field.
Jones has fantastic athleticism and the Patriots are going to try and throw as much at him to see where he can thrive. Don’t be surprised if he is the team’s starting slot cornerback against teams with three receiver sets. He has a bright future.